I recently had the opportunity to share some of our home ed journey with an editor of a Christian magazine, and one of the topics she was particularly interested in was the combination of home ed and adoption. This has prompted me to jot down a few thoughts here.
Adoption is God’s design…He’s adopted us into his family, and so the adoption of children/teens into our families seems only to be an extension of that. However, while the theology appears to be fairly straightforward, the outworking of this in our broken world, is anything but. The majority of children released for adoption in the uk have a background of trauma; physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect. They are broken on many levels, and this is played out in their behaviour. It’s messy.
The early years really do provide so much of the foundation of how we react with the world around us. A child who has experienced loss and rejection (even if that was not what was meant) will find it far harder to trust that Mummy is now a constant; if they have lost one or more mother figures, what’s to make them think this one will be any different? We need to work hard at building trust, and it’s over years, not months.
Many neurological connections are made in the first two years, and a child needs a loving and stimulating environment for this to happen. Neglect can have long term consequences on brain development.
Children living with a constant level of fear of what will happen next will have their “fight or flight” response kicked into overdrive. This impacts their future stress regulation, and means many children who have experienced trauma in their past are not great at regulating stress; they can spiral from chilled to “on the ceiling” within seconds, over something as small as being asked to put their shoes away.
Control is often a big issue and this may be worked out in toileting, food or following simple requests/instructions. If a child has experienced an extreme lack of control over his/her life circumstances, they will want to do anything they can to stay in control now. While it takes patience and perseverance to teach a preschool child to follow simple instructions, like “come here”, “stop at the road”, “please clear your plate from the table” “it’s time to tidy up” this can be increased exponentially with a child who has experienced trauma, making many activities of daily living quite arduous. It’s very tiring!
Children may also have experienced alcohol or drugs while in the womb, which leads to many problems, especially the former. They also often have sensory processing and organisational issues which impact many aspects of daily life.
While I’ve very much appreciated the (limited) psychological input we’ve had, which has helped me to understand where our children’s behaviour is coming from, I do keep having this nagging feeling that it’s not the complete answer. Surely we should be able to find more within God’s good word, the Bible?
As I’ve prayed and searched, I keep coming back to how God parents us, as broken individuals. He loves us unconditionally. He understands everything about us. Nothing is hidden. He speaks truth to us, affirming us as his precious children. He doesn’t promise nothing bad will happen to us…in fact he says hardships will be part of our lives, but He promises to be alongside us. He gives us clear boundaries by which to live. He shows that when we decide to walk outside these there will be consequences but he will always be there to pick up the pieces and lovingly set us back on track again. It’s good to live in an atmosphere of saying sorry (repentance), asking and receiving forgiveness and offering forgiveness to others. We need to understand that we live in community and that our behaviour affects others. We need to learn to bear with each other. Maybe in summary “Jesus came…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and we need to extend this to our precious children.
So, our children need to be enfolded in love and understanding, but also to know clear boundaries. All this is, I believe, needed for any child, but is infinitely harder work to provide consistently to an adopted child due to the array of behavioural, emotional, sensory processing and educational needs they will have. It is indeed parenting plus, or therapeutic parenting.
Our adopted children are doing amazingly well; there are no guarantees this will continue, and it hasn’t happened by chance. It’s been, and continues to be, incredibly hard work. It’s our normality, and it’s only on the few occasions when I’m poorly and don’t have the energy to input as usual, that I realise quite how much extra they need.
I’m sure their progress is due to a mix of factors; prayer, love, trying to remain constant with boundaries, God’s grace….But I do think that home ed has played a large part. Neither of them spent the beginning of their lives with us, and home ed has meant that time has been redeemed . We do life together, every day. Home is (despite sibling squabbles and cross parents) far calmer and quieter an environment than school, and the pace of life is slower. Both of these help them to gradually learn to deal more appropriately with stress, in a far gentler way. There is heaps of time to play, to explore, to be creative. Sometimes this is making up for early years when they haven’t had these opportunities, but also I think play is very therapeutic and allows them to work through all sorts of situations and create their own safe worlds.
As they get older, I’m extremely grateful that they are, to a certain extent, protected from some of the pressures of social media and teen culture. They are arguably more vulnerable to negative comments/ pressures, and I’m so glad that the messages they are immersed in are positive ones; affirming they are loved, unique and have a purpose and a future.
There is much talk at present about families choosing home education due to schools not being able to provide for particular needs of their children. I can’t comment on this, but for us it’s not a default position. It’s been a very positive choice, for all the above reasons. It’s not an easy one, the progress is slow, and I find I need time out in a way I never used to. It’s important to look at and acknowledge how far we’ve come, rather than where we still struggle. And I’ve learnt so much from our beautiful girls. I think God uses our children to teach us life lessons…and I’m certainly learning daily. I’m also constantly amazed at our boys, for their patience, love and understanding. We muddle through as a family, and my prayer is that, by God’s profound grace, we will continue to enable each of our precious children flourish.